This morning I was fortunate enough to be watching three of the surviving square-lipped rhino in the wild. It was simultaneously a thrill and a time of sadness and dread. I wondered whether these three magnificent animals would still be alive next week or next month. This is no melodramatic hyperbole! At the current rate of slaughter of these remarkable and iconic beasts, the survival of these three, beyond the next year, is slim indeed.
I have been involved in the wildlife & conservation arena for most of my life and I communicate regularly with people directly involved in the struggle to conserve rhino. It may come as a surprise to you to learn that in spite of all the debate about how to halt the slaughter of the rhino, the identity of many of the poachers of rhino and buyers as well as exporters of rhino horn are well known! This begs the question of why nothing is being done to apprehend these murderers. Certainly in some instances this is because due process must be followed (ie: people have legal rights and these must be respected). Evidence must be obtained and presented to a court of law and a conviction must be secured.
I know of cases in which young men from impoverished subsistence villages situated close to the heaviest rhino poaching are suddenly driving new vehicles worth US $50,000.00. It does not take much imagination to work out from where their money has come. We live in a democratic society with a healthy & almost independent legal system. This privilege comes with the requirements of due process mentioned above, but I wonder what is required before a clear message is sent to these perpetrators. Aside from the ethical and emotional issues there are clear national economic factors that are relevant here. Wildlife tourism is one of the most important drawcards in Africa and rhino are amongst the most popular species that visitors come to see. If our mineral wealth or agricultural yield or livestock or industrial products were being stolen by known individuals I am sure that decisive steps would be taken against them. Why is it that our hands are tied when our most precious wildlife heritage is being butchered and stolen from us by known perpetrators?
I do see the value of a functioning legal system and I do shudder when I read the knee-jerk calls for poachers to be tortured to death. However, there is a war happening out there, OUR natural heritage is being pillaged, honest dedicated men are being killed while trying to protect our rhino – often by known individuals. Surely there are steps that can be taken!